Sandals are continuing to lead sales growth for independent footwear retailers in the US, new research suggests, as consumers continue to focus on casual and comfortable fashions.

Total sandal sales among independent retailers grew 8% to $1.2bn in the 12 months ending March 2015, following a 9% increase in the previous year, according to global information company, The NPD Group.

"Sandals have transcended traditional limitations and become season-less, making room for new product and sales opportunities," says Marshal Cohen, NPD’s chief industry analyst.

Whereas overall growth in the independent footwear channel has levelled in the 12 months to the end of March, there is positive momentum – mostly coming from sandals, which now represent 16% of dollar sales in the channel. While slipper and sneaker sales both grew among women and men, sandals experienced the largest absolute dollar gains of all women’s and men’s footwear types for the past two years.

"Clothing and footwear once designated for a specific purpose are now being worn anytime, and anywhere (with and without socks), because consumers are comfortable in them," Cohen adds.

Overall, comfort is a consistent standout for the independent footwear channel, including sandals. More than three in four men, and 85% of women cited comfort as extremely important or very important when shopping for new shoes, according to the group’s recent brand focus reports.

"Footwear brands regarded for comfort are responding to today’s trends with products that not only stay true to their reputation, but also expand their reach with more diverse and fashionable options," adds Cohen.

"Independent footwear retailers embrace these trends and brands, while creating a personalised experience; both of which are very appealing to today’s consumer."